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The Works of M.P. Shiel and related titles
JDS Books/Vainglory Press

Introduction Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Additional Material

The Works of M.P. Shiel
M.P. Shiel
Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1947), was born July 21, 1865, in Montserrat, West Indies. His father, a ship-owner, shopkeeper, and lay Methodist preacher had laid claim to the small rocky Leeward island of Redonda, of which his son was crowned king on his 15th birthday. Beginning to write at 11, Shiel was educated in Barbados, then London, England. Shiel spoke seven languages and served as an interpreter before trying his hand at medicine and teaching mathematics. Shiel was an active man, jogging six miles a day into his 70s and practicing mountaineering and yoga. Married twice, Shiel was "an eager womanizer" fathering several illegitimate children. Impressed at an early age by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and given his knowledge of many languages, Shiel's poetic prose was idiosyncratically unique, being compared by some to improvisational jazz, by others to stylistic sound effects. Shiel has been accused by some of anti-Semitism, but others suggest he used the racist views of his time as a literary device to ultimately discredit racism an expound his own peculiar belief system. Towards the end of his life Shiel adopted an anti-Christian stance based on scientific knowledge over hope ("ignorance") and completed an analysis and retelling of the Gospel of Matthew. Several of his works toy with eugenics and the Nietzschean übermensch concept, though the latter under a communal rather than individualistic form, and not as something inherent in a race or creed, but rather a status achieved through learning. During his life Shiel wrote 25 novels and numerous short-stories, the best of which he produced between 1895 and 1905. These include Prince Zaleski (1895), Shapes of Fire (1896), Cold Steel (1899), Contraband of War (1899), The Purple Cloud (1901) and Lord of the Sea. Shiel died on February 17, 1947, at a hospital in Chichester.

ISFDB Bibliography
Kingdom of Redonda-1
Kingdom of Redonda-2
Bison Books ed. of The Purple Cloud
Shiel/Gawsworth related papers at the University of Iowa
JDS Books/Vainglory Press
A. Reynolds Morse Collection of M.P. Shiel
Shiel as a mystery writer
E-TEXT: 5 stories
E-TEXT: "Arthur Machen"
E-TEXT: "The Case of Euphemia Raphash", also here
E-TEXT: "A Torture by Hope" by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, translated by M.P. Shiel
E-TEXT: "L'Abri" by Malcolm M. Ferguson
E-TEXT: "Dweller in the Tomb of Mausolus: The Return of Prince Zaleski" by Philip Lister
E-TEXT: "Two Kings of Redonda: M.P. Shiel and John Gawsworth" by Jon Wynne-Tyson
BOOK REVIEW: The Purple Cloud: 1, 2 (in Japanese), 3 (in Italian), 4, 5, 6 (in French), 7

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Volume 4. Shiel in Diverse Hands

In Volume 4, published in 1983, we have some 29 works of literary criticism related to Shiel and his works along with essays by Shiel "On Printing" and "On Reading." Some of the main themes covered in these articles cover:
Shiel's use of the English language
Shiel's use of contemporary events in his fiction
Shiel in terms of his relationships with and similarities to his contemporaries
Shiel's philosophy and how it pervades his works
Shiel's partly black parentage and it's possible influence on his life and writing
Argument for and against Shiel's alledged anti-Semitism and racism
Shiel's mystery novels
Discussions and reviews of specific novels
Collecting Shiel's books
The search from undiscovered periodical appearances of Shiel work

The essays include:

"An Uncrowned Lord of Language" by Alan Tytheridge
     Tytheridge in a 1924 essay, one of the earliest assessments of Shiel's writing, discusses Shiel's early novels, "supermen" heroes, and views of God. More interestingly he goes on to give examples of Shiel's mastery of the English language, how Shiel plays with sound in his writing.
"Matthew Phipps Shiel" by Carl Van Vechten
     Here Van Vechten, in his introduction to the reissue of Shiel's The Lord of the Sea (1924), describes how he discovered Shiel. He goes on to discuss Shiel's expostulations about what a good writer should do/be, this drawn from Shiel's essay "On Writing" also available in this volume.
"The Purple Cloud and Its Author" by Edward Shanks
     Shanks in a 1929 review of Shiel's The Purple Cloud first dissects the book, exposing what makes it great, and what portions are weaker. He then goes on to discuss Shiel's stylistic idiosyncracies and place him in the context of his peers.
"Shiel Versus Shiel" by Paul Spenser
     Spenser here delves into the philosophical contradictions of Shiel's writing: his seemingly rampant racism and twisted ideas of eugenics, which seem out of line with his search for scientific truth, a benevolent God, and the betterment of mankind. He points out how these ideas evolve throughout Shiel's career in order to develop an overall picture of Shiel's philosophy.
"The Dark Plots of One Shiel" by Sam Moskowitz
     Sam Moskowitz, while he admires some of Shiel's writing techniques, is fervently convinced that Shiel is a virulent anti-Semite, racist, and supporter of the worst of the übermenschdoctrines, giving numerous examples of Shiel denigrating Jews, Asians and others. Some of this he suggests may related to Shiel's knowledge and shame with respect to his partially black ancestry.
"On Digging Shiel" by Malcolm M. Ferguson
     Ferguson, one of the few contributors to have actually met Shiel, contradicts Moskowitz's labelling of Shiel as an anti-Semite, bringing to bear Shiel's interactions with a number of Jewish publishers and his clearly extensive knowledge of Jesish mores. Moreover, he suggests that Shiel's Lord of the Sea, the book most often cited as an example of Shiel's anti-Semitism, reflects much more closely the socio-political theories of Henry George, whose 1879 work Progress and Poverty espouses the abolishment of private ownership.
"Shiel, Van Vechten and the Question of Color" by Walter Goldwater
     Goldwater, a bookdealer, discusses his and others inquiries into Shiel's apparent black heritage.
"The Shape of Shiel - 1865-1896 - A Biography of the Early Years" by Harold Billings
     Billings presents, in this portion of an unpublished Shiel biography, what is know of Shiel's infancy and formative years in the West Indies, and his early days in London. Drawing extensively on letters between Shiel and his family, Billings builds a strong picture of what the young Shiel was exposed to and what sort of a person Shiel might have been, a subject on which there is precious little information.
"Shiel Versus the Renegade Romantic" by George Hay
     Hay, an H.G. Wells scholar, delves into Shiel's relationship with Wells, including Wells' early trashing of Shiel's work in book reviews. It also compares and contrasts the two men and their literary styles.
"Introduction to The Purple Cloud" by David G. Hartwell
     In his introduction to the 1977 Gregg Press edition of The Purple Cloud, Hartwell goes into a bit of Shiel's biography, before discussing The Purple Cloud's place in Shiel's future history trilogy: The Last Miracle (1906), The Lord of the Sea (1901), and The Purple Cloud (1901). He interestingly draws attention to The Purple Cloud's perhaps being inspired by Mary Shelley's The Last Man.
"M.P. Shiel 1865-1947" and "M.P. Shiel, Humorist?" by E.F. Bleiler
     In the first essay, taken from his Science Fiction Writers, Bleiler briefly discusses Shiel's life and writings, and why he never really became popular. In the second essay, Bleiler proposes that some of the absurd occurrences which Shiel places in his stories are perhaps a spoof of tawdry romance novels.
"A Primate of Pure Prose. M.P. Shiel's Short Stories" by Mike Barrett
     Barrett looks at Shiel's short stories, comparing his three original Prince Zaleski tales to his fairly poor attempts to recapture the character's in his "posthumous collaborations" with John Gawsworth. Barrett also looks at Shiel's many other short stories and provides a handy list of publication dates for all the known Shiel stories.
"Two Notes on M.P. Shiel's Style" by August Derleth
     Derleth's comments on Shiel from his Bachelor of Arts Thesis and from his book Writing Fiction delve into Shiel's writing style.
"My Search for Elusive M.P. Shiel Material" by W.O.G. Lofts
     This is an account of searches made for periodical publications of Shiel's work as yet undiscovered. Lofts includes a list of Shiel's periodical appearances, a list of periodicals checked in vain for further Shiel material, and a list of periodicals as yet unchecked.
"The Book Collector and M.P. Shiel" by George Locke
     Locke discusses the relative scarcity and value of Shiel books, the periodicals in which he appeared, the dust-jackets, the signed editions, etc.
"The Illustrated Shiel" by R. Arrington
     Arrington discusses the illustrators of Shiel's periodical appearances, and the very few book illustrations.
"Prince Zaleski and Count Stenbock" by Stephen Wayne Foster
     Foster suggests that Zaleski may have been based on the real-life Count Stenbock, author in his own right of some wonderful weird short stories and poems.
"The Mysteries of M.P. Shiel" by Don Herron
     Herron discusses Shiel's Prince Zaleski (1896) and the Cummings King Monk tales from The Pale Ape and Other Pulses (1911). He then goes on to discuss Shiel's mystery novels like Dr. Krasinski's Secret and How the Old Woman Got Home.
"You Can't Get There From Here: How the Old Woman Got Home and M.P. Shiel as Thinker" by James Wade
     Wade's essay investigates Shiel's 1927 mystery novel How the Old Woman Got Home, and draws out conclusuions about Shiel's socio-political and theological views.
"A Reluctant Monarch" Interview of King Juan II of Redonda (a.k.a. Jon Wynne-Tyson) by James Edward Holroyd
     A bit about Shiel's Realm of Redonda, past and "present"
"M.P. Shiel. Right Royal Fantasist" by Jon Wynne-Tyson
     An article on Shiel from the Antiquarian Book Monthly Review discussing Shiel, his works, and the whole mess of the "crown" of Redonda.
"Why is Shiel Neglected?" by Colin Wilson
     Wilson argues that when Shiel discovered he could make money writing sensationalist serials, this turned him away from his better and more literary earlier work, basically he gave up Art for Money. Also Wilson suggests that Shiel had a bit of a paranoid streak and a feeling that fate had been unkind to him which poised much of his later writing.
"M.P. Shiel and Secret Societies" by Steve Eng
     Here Mr. Eng, discusses the secret societies of the late 1800s and Shiel's probable lack of involvement in any. He then goes on to discuss Shiel's use and portrayal of such societies in his works, particularly in the Zaleski tale "The S.S." (1896) and in "The Primate of the Rose" in Here Comes the Lady (1928).
"M.P. Shiel and Arthur Machen. Parallels in Life and Letters" by Steve Eng
     Eng compares and contrasts Shiel and Machen, both in terms of their personal lives and writings, and over their lifetimes.
"Some Contemporary Themes in Shiel's Early Novels" by John D, Squires
     In his introduction, Mr. Squires looks at the socio-political setting as well as the use of current-day events in Shiel's early novels, and how these enhanced their acceptance by the reading public. In a first portion, Squires looks extensively at how Shiel's early works reflect Chinese and Japanese relations with the West and how the two countries were developing at the time. Mr. Squires quotes extensively from Shiel's novels of East-West conflict as well as historical sources to discuss the full historical context of Shiel's works. In a second part, Mr. Squires looks at Shiel's extensive knowledge and use of 1890s naval history, in particular it's extensive use in The Yellow Danger, proposing possible materials Shiel might have consulted. Squires also presents Shiel's naval episodes in the context of contemporary naval tactics and technology.
"The New King: Shiel's Final Novel" by David A. Drake
     Drake looks at Shiel's last, posthumously published, novel, finding there many of Shiel's old themes, including his typical super-human yet naive and ineffectual heroes.
"M.P. Shiel: The Author - Still Unknown" by A. Reynolds Morse
     Morse discusses what avenues of research into Shiel need further work, which appear to have been exhausted, and the sort of materials and information which might still be out there and allow a better understanding of M.P.Shiel, the person rather than the author.
"The Rose Beyond the Thunders and the Whirlpools" by W. Scott Home
     Mr. Home discusses the role of whirlpools and thunder in Shiel's and Edgar Allan Poe's writing, and ties in Shiel with other writers.
"Villian, Vaudevillian and Saint. The Literary Tradition as a Source for the Jew in Shiel" by Ben P. Indick
     Indick looks at the literary traditions surrounding Jew, including the tradition of the Wandering Jew, the character of Svengali in George du Maurier's Trilby, amongst many others. While previous essays try to vilefy or defend Shiel and his particular usage of Jewish characters, Indick shows that Shiel had a fairly extensive knowledge of Jewish tradition and ritual and this tends to support the idea that Shiel was using the Jews more as a symbol than as a specific entity.
"The Politics of Evolution. Philosophical Themes in the Speculative Fiction of M.P. Shiel" by Brian Stableford
     Stableford points out Shiel's propensity for "lecturing his readers" on his particular theories of how the World should be. In discussing Shiel's early novels, Stableford brings out the fact that what is an "overman" to Shiel differs significantly from the typical Neitzcheian. He goes on to compare and contrast their philosophies. Stableford also investigates Shiel's ideas of social Darwinism and eugenics, how they evolved and how they fit in with Shiel's philosophy, as expressed in his fictional writings.
"John Gawsworth...On M.P. Shiel: A Selection" compiled by Steve Eng
     This includes a number of comments on Shiel by his friend and literary executor John Gawsworth.
"On Reading" (1909), "On Reading" (1950) by M.P. Shiel
     In this essay Shiel discusses literature, writers, writing and associated subjects. I must confess to having found this rather difficult to slog through, and perhaps a wee mite pretentious, but it certainly gives one perspective on Shiel's way of thinking when it comes to writing.

Given these close to 400 pages of material about Shiel, it is clear that he was certainly a queer bird. From my reading of close to a dozen of Shiel's novels it is clear he was a somewhat uneven writer, some of his short stories in particular being the product of financial necessity rather than Art. His hero-villains, which are often indistinguishable and consequently far more nasty and sinister, certainly have a good dose of fascism and übermensch to them, though tempered with an acknowledgement that such a status is not one granted by birth (i.e., by race) but rather by learning and intelligence. Given the preeminent historical events of the last century, it is perhaps these very elements which make Shiel's villains credibly unpleasant characters, even today, not the now laughable over-the-top arch-villains such as Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu-Manchu. For anyone wishing to brush more than just the surface of Shiel's work, this and the Shiel works in Volume 1 are an excellent place to start.

Table of Contents
Volume 4. Shiel in Diverse Hands
Essay Title Author Pages
An Uncrowned Lord of Language (1924)Alan Tytheridge1
A Prolegomenon (introduction to The Lord of the Sea, 1924)Carl Van Vechten15
The Purple Cloud and Its Author (1929)Edward Shanks23
Shiel versus ShielPaul Spencer31
The Dark Plots of One ShielSam Moskowitz57
On Digging ShielMalcolm Ferguson69
Shiel, Van Vechten and the Question of ColourWalter Goldwater75
The Shape of Shiel (Notes on the Early Years)Harold Billings77
Shiel versus the Renegade RomanticGeorge Hay109
M.P. Shiel 1865-1947
M.P. Shiel: Humorist?
E.F. Bleiler123
A Primate of Pure Prose
The Short Stories of M.P. Shiel - A Chronological Listing
Mike Barrett133
Two Notes on Shiel's StyleAugust Derleth145
My Search for Elusive Shiel Material
Magazines containing works by M.P. Shiel
W.O.G. Lofts147
The Book Collector and M.P. ShielGeorge Locke159
The Illustrated ShielRobert Arrington171
Prince Zaleski and Count StenbockStephen Wayne Foster175
The Mysteries of M.P. ShielDon Herron179
You Can't Get There From Here: "How the Old Woman Got Home" and M.P. Shiel as ThinkerJames Wade195
A Reluctant Monarch
M.P. Shiel: Right Royal Fantasist
Jon Wynne-Tyson205
Why is Shiel Neglected?Colin Wilson213
M.P. Shiel and Secret Societies
M.P. Shiel and Arthur Machen
Steve Eng223
Some Contemporary Themes in Shiel's Early Novels
The Dragon's Tale: M.P. Shiel on the Emergence of Modern China
Steel Afloat: M.P. Shiel on Naval Warfare
John D. Squires
The New King (Shiel's Final Novel): An AppreciationDavid A. Drake329
M.P. Shiel the Author - Still UnknownA. Reynolds Morse331
The Rose Beyond the Thunders and the WhirlpoolsW. Scott Home343
Villain, Vaudevillian and SaintBen P. Indick357
The Politics of EvolutionBrian Stableford369
John Gawsworth.....On M.P Shiel: A SelectionSteve Eng, compiler395
"On Printing"M.P. Shiel406
"On Reading" (First Version, 1909)M.P. Shiel409
"On Reading and on Writing" (Revised Version, 1950)M.P. Shiel449
Man Abroad Chapter IX "Henrygeorgia"Anonymous485

Introduction Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Additional Material

Copyright © 2002 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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